Low Carb Luxury continues its series of interviews with key players in the low carb industry in our
ongoing effort to be the liaison between business and consumers.
This month, we chose to interview
Bryan Bootka of Low Carb Success... Why? Because we felt that Bryan was in a unique position to offer
industry insight from the point of view of someone who's worked for two companies back to back that were,
for all intents and purposes, fierce competitors. Bryan knows most of the players in this field, and
attends many of the tradeshows and events.
That said, please note the addendum at the end of this interview as Bryan's circumstances changed shortly
after the interview was completed.
Low Carb Luxury:
What did you do before working in the low carb industry and how did you come to "low carb"?
I've worked in the natural foods industry since I was 19. I worked with Sun Harvest which is owned by Wild Oats,
and I've worked for natural foods brokers. From there I began my own diet/weight-loss supplement business. I'm 30 now,
so I've been doing this for awhile...
My wife Courtney and I were doing Atkins before we were married and we found ourselves in a small low carb store
in Pflugerville, Texas, called "Cut The Carbs." We bought a number of food items while there, but before leaving, I left my business card
with the owner. Since I owned the supplement business, I was hoping to make a sale with them. Within a couple of
weeks, we received an email asking if we'd be interested in buying the store...
It was a small store and a first step, so I took it. As it turned out, the person I bought that store from was
Julee Dennis (who later became "Gram's Gourmet.") After I purchased the store, I changed the name to "The Nutrition Solution."
I wanted to be able to grow the store into something more than just low carb; something that could accomodate what I hoped to
do with the supplement end of the business as well. This was in November of 2001.
Do you follow a low carb lifestyle yourself?
My wife and I are definitely carb-conscious, but neither of us are strictly low carb at this point.
How did you become involved with Gram's Gourmet and how long were you there?
After purchasing the store from Julee, she and I worked well together. She was interested in the diet
supplement I'd created (later called "Low Carber's Miracle.") She suggested we team up to market them,
and not long after, we began introducing food products as well. It was at that point that we created our
second dba, "Gram's Gourmet."
What were your duties at Gram's Gourmet?
My official title was Vice President, but I did many things. I assisted in product development (on the ingredients
and supply end). I worked with raw materials suppliers. I worked with co-packers because we contracted out for some
products. We also did some private labeling for other companies. I managed all aspects of sales, marketing, and distribution.
Obviously I was very involved in the day-to-day operations of the company.
At our peak, there were perhaps 12 to 13 employees
at Gram's. Along with Julee, my wife Courtney and I, initially sat down with every shareholder to get them involved in
the company. My wife handled all the financial aspects of the company at that time, having earned her degrees in finance from
UT. Courtney was with Gram's until just after her graduation, and then left the company.
Why did Courtney leave?
She was asked to leave. Julee didn't feel comfortable with a husband and wife team having that much control of
her company, even though I only owned about 15% of the stock at that time. We didn't do anything to make Julee feel
uncomfortable, but we understood her feelings nonetheless and respected them.
How did you come to the decision to leave Gram's Gourmet?
A board meeting was set for 3rd Quarter 2004 in Las Vegas, where Julee's daughter was named Vice President after
I was let go from the company. Julee and I had disagreed over an employment contract. She presented it to me at
a time of difficulty for the company and in an unprofessional manner, and I chose not to sign, so I was dismissed.
This was June 23, 2004. Since I had co-founded the company, invested in the company, and my father-in-law was an
initial investor as well, I felt some professionalism was due me where this contract was concerned, but Julee did
How did you become involved with Low Carb Success and how long have you been there?
I began working for Dave and Colleen Martinez of Low Carb Success just before the Vegas NNFA Show in July of last
year. Dave had come into a health food store I was working at (where he was servicing a Low Carb Success account),
and we began talking. We realized I might be qualified to work for them doing the same sorts of things I did for
Gram's. I suggested we use the Vegas show as a trial. I told them that if they paid my expenses for the trip, I'd
work their booth, and if they liked what I could do for them, we'd have a deal.
There was some initial hesitancy about bringing on board someone who'd been such a big part of their biggest corporate
rivalry, but it worked out great. Before we left Vegas, I was a part of Low Carb Success.
There were a lot of raised eyebrows as people realized that I was working with LCS, but it's been great.
What are your duties at Low Carb Success?
BB: One of the things that I like is that my job description is more dynamic than static. It's constantly
changing and evolving so that I can go where I'm most needed. Perhaps package graphics coordination, perhaps
marketing copy... perhaps working with the co-packer. I spend a lot of time on sales projects. I help to
streamline procedures, work on quality control... Just whatever needs to be done.
My official title was Director of Food Service Sales, but it didn't work out that that would be the most
appropriate direction for me. It's still a small company and no matter what I become, Dave will always remain
very involved, so I am just not concerned with title at this point, but rather staying flexible.
What are your thoughts on the media craze that hit low carb in 2004?
I think the media craze was very beneficial. Yes, they began by saying nearly all positive things about it and by the end
were saying it was "dead" and "dying," but the result is that it brought a lot of attention to the industry, the diet, the
science. I was very excited by it all. It kept low carb in people's minds. It meant that everyone from consumers to
corporate decision makers had to keep it in their thoughts as they planned their futures.
Where do you see the low carb industry going now?
It's going in the direction I thought it would, albeit on a faster track than I had anticipated. Big food companies got into
it (and some exited as well) much more quickly than many thought. But it was bound to happen. What was also fated to happen was
that the industry would evolve. The successful product for long term would need to be able to claim more than a simple carb
count. They would need to position themselves as more than just low carb. Perhaps low calorie as well... perhaps organic,
perhaps gluten-free, or "all natural." They will need to taste good, and be healthful. For example, the new items from Low Carb
Success will be marketed under the "Naturally Supreme" label.
I think there will always be a demand for low carb products. But they will need to have additional benefits, and it will return
to a niche market as it once was, although a more widely accepted one. The marketing will change and the foods will be healthier.
What has been the best thing that's happened to you as a result of being in the low carb arena?
BB: This industry has allowed me to learn so much about business, period. From manufacturing to marketing, it's been an
education and an experience I'll always benefit from no matter where I end up in life.
How about the worst?
The worst has been the best. The fact that low carb was an incredibly volatile marketplace this past year means that from
"the worst", we've all learned lessons we'll be grateful for later. We learned never to put all our eggs in one basket
and learned that the market can change practically overnight. So be prepared for that!
Thank you so much for taking the time to allow us to interview you!
We wish you the very best of luck as you continue your journey in this industry!
FOLLOWUP: Since conducting this interview (on January 19th, 2004), Bryan was laid off from Low Carb Success (on January 21st.)
We wish Bryan luck in finding a new position, and feel confident that with his experience and talent, he won't be idle for long.
Copyright © February 2005 Lora Ruffner and Neil Beaty for Low Carb Luxury.